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The Perspective
The Perspective

June 8, 2016

ATVs present a deadly threat to Canadian kids – it’s time for change

Dr. Suzanne Beno is an Emergency Medicine Physician and Co-Director of the Trauma Program at SickKids.

Dr. Suzanne Beno

In 2015, by June there were already nine fatalities in Ontario related to recreational use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV). Approximately one quarter of all ATV-related fatalities in Ontario occur in children under 16 years of age, and these statistics are only for death, the tip of the injury iceberg, and do not account for disability and the large burden of rehabilitation these children and families face.

On the heels of SafeKids Week follows a week solely dedicated to ATV safety. In downtown Toronto, ATV-related injuries come to us by way of ‘trauma transfers’ from rural communities. They are children requiring hospitalization, often surgical intervention, and usually intensive care. These are the ones that stand a chance at survival. We don’t see the kids who die on scene or at their local hospital, but a simple Google search for Ontario ATV-related fatalities in children and youth produces shocking results.

As an emergency physician and trauma specialist, this week allows me to reflect on the work that has been done to date to reduce traumatic injury related to ATVs in children and youth across Canada, in Ontario, and within SickKids itself.  Excellent work has been done, especially in provinces like Nova Scotia and Quebec, whereby policy has been successfully changed to improve legislation to better protect Canadian children; but more work and effort is needed to achieve the ultimate goal of reducing ATV-related injury and death.

Society doesn’t allow youth to drive cars until they are 16 years of age, yet Ontario law currently states that it is okay to let young children drive 600 lb machines that can travel at speeds of 130 km/hr on bumpy terrain without supervision, as long as they remain on private property. Can anyone explain this? Children and youth under the age of 16 years should not drive ATVs, nor should they be passengers if the vehicle isn’t designed for that, regardless if on public or private land; and to protect all Ontarians and Canadians who enjoy this sport, ATVs themselves need to be safer. The public needs to be aware of the dangers that exist when children ride on these powerful machines, and drivers need to be properly trained to deal with these dangers. But not kids, please.

The injury prevention approach is to combine education and public awareness with environmental control, enforcement of appropriate regulations, and engineering advances to address a public health safety hazard. There is an opportunity for the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario to improve our legislation to at least align with other provinces, or better yet, exceed their regulations and lead by example.  In addition, manufacturers need to be forced to improve vehicle design, just as the automotive industry has done.  ATV safety for all Canadians, not only children and youth, requires this coordinated approach.  The stakes are disproportionately higher though for our youngest citizens, and the time for action should be now, before more young lives are tragically and unnecessarily altered or lost.

For more information, please see the Canadian Paediatrics Society “Are We Doing Enough” Status Report http://www.cps.ca/en/status-report/off-road-vehicle-safety-legislation-2016-report